The Hermitage Theatre, one of the oldest theatres in Russia, was built
by order of Catherine the Great in 1782-1785 to a design by the architect
Giacomo Quarenghi. It was constructed in the austere Neoclassical style
on the site of what was once Peter I's Winter Palace. Its unusual auditorium
was designed to resemble an amphitheatre, the walls and columns decorated
with coloured imitation marble. Statues of Apollo and the nine Muses are
placed in niches, with bas-relief
portraits of famous musicians and poets above them.
The first season in the Hermitage Theatre opened on November 16, 1785,
with a comic opera. Performances were held two or three times a week and
all St Petersburg theatre groups - Italian, Russian, French, German and
the ballet troupe - participated in court performances, many of them with
a libretto written by the Empress herself. A great number of celebrated
artists, writers and musicians worked for the Hermitage Theatre.
After the Revolution in 1917, the Soviet director Vsevolod Meyerhold
made an unsuccessful attempt to revive the Theatre, but it was gradually
transformed into a lecture and conference hall for the State Hermitage
Museum. In the early 1980s, the decision was taken to undertake major
repairs and restoration of the entire building. In the course of the reconstruction,
modern equipment was installed, including that necessary for simultaneous
translation (up to five languages at any one time), a film projector with
reverse projection, and computerized light control equipment. Since completion
of the reconstruction, the Theatre has been used not only for scholarly
purposes - lectures, seminars, conferences - but has also functioned once
more as a true theatre, with plays and concerts accessible to the public.
Musical festivals are organized and conducted in the Hermitage Theatre,
and there are now traditional performances by graduating students of the
famous Vaganova College of Ballet. Lovers of classical music can attend
performances of the State Hermitage's own orchestra, St Petersburg Camerata.